The Daughters of Albion had been monitoring metempsychosis since before the death of Orpheus, whose latest resurrection was documented by the Daughters when he reincarnated as a sapling in the Amazon rainforest, having spent an eternity circling the alternate histories of Roman conquest.
Souls tend to circumnavigate human, vegetable, and animal life until reaching epiphany, which the Daughters facilitate for a chosen few. Prior to their mediation, disembodied souls wandered space and time with reckless abandon. If transmigration ever has a purpose, it is all thanks to Becky, Tammy, and Maud. To them, the collected universe was like a spreadsheet or a map, and they watched everything collect in cells and spread in rivulets across the canvas of its history. In the year 2020, Maud tracked Adam’s soul on her tablet.
“Where do we place this one?” she asked the others.
It had spent early human history migrating oceans as starfish, kelp, occasionally sharks and whales. The soul didn’t break onto land until floating as a seed into a Chinese forest. Impressively, the Soul clung tightly to that sap as an arrow in the Mongolian army, returned to the forest, and later lasted one hundred years on the pages of a manuscript in a library of the Yuan Dynasty.”
It was an impressive run. Not many souls lasted long as pages in books.
“How many human lives have they had?” Becky asked.
“This will be the first.”
Maud flipped a switch and The Daughters all stood to greet the passing soul.
“Imagine a bright summer day,” she says, “when the sky is bright enough for you to squint. Now, imagine staring, straight into the sun. Three white cloaked women block the light enough for you to make out silhouettes, but you still can’t see.”
Becky, Tammy, and Maud each waved.
“Your body aches where all of your other senses soon will be. Your ears are hungry and your fingers ring.
“As a human being, every thought that you imagine splinters off and grows into a cosmos all its own,” Maud says.
“You’ll never see these star systems that you create, but we will. We will care for them, prune and grow them into blooms.
“Know that this is an oppressing thought for souls with human pasts, for those who think themselves exempt from being servant to the evil that they fancy. Seeds upset at falling trees. But to you, this first thought is, as yet, endearing and beautiful.
A plucked string never considers which pole caused the sound, vibrating regardless. Similarly, Satan’s soul spun out in humanity, not bothering itself with riddles of the first or second cause. After every bodily death, the Daughters of Albion fretted over this anomaly. They imagined that even the most variant of souls’ tendency were towards the stars. Bouts of vegetable afterlife tended to cure the soul of human anxiety, milieu’s as molecular compounds, even viruses reoriented the soul towards night. Yet, Satan’s soul clung tightly to the human form, to twenty four hour days, finding wind swept lodging in the barely dead and the nearly born. Each reanimated minute, compounded over time, building epogomal months and years that amounted to centuries and millennia which the Daughters of Albion could only report as lost.
Then Maud accidentally spilled coffee over her tablet, and Satan simultaneously found itself fixed in the branches of an Alder tree. It didn’t matter which came first, what mattered was Maud’s hand shook as if mortality had finally crept into the kingdom of God.
“Shit,” Maud muttered.
At least since the Manichean, Tengri Bögü Khan, had rebelled against the Shamanism of his father, Satan‘s soul had drifted among human moments. Becky postulated that the fixation began when Albion was laid inside the burial cave at Cadbury. Tammy didn’t bother herself with such questions, preferring to spend her speculation on the anonymous love songs of pre-linguistic cultures. Maud wiped off her tablet, shook it some, and pondered with its blank screen in her hand.
“Put it on rice,” Becky suggested.
“I think that’s a myth,” Tammy mused.
“It’ll dry. There’s rice in the pantry.”
Maud looked at her dark reflection, set the tablet down, and gulped the cold remnants of her coffee. It was eerie, losing track of all the souls she had to monitor. Suspicion ate at her to fill the void. The others hardly looked up from their screens. Becky raised an eyebrow and coughed.
“You’d never guess. Seems Satan’s given up on humans for a spell.”
“Hiding in the trees again?” Tammy asked.
But Maud just mulled it over. It wasn’t right, coincidence. Something short of panic tried to tell her that it was just her worry. That the fruit of conscience was better left to ripen on its own because it’s the act of plucking that’s forbidden. It’s imagining someone’s hands were at the lyre.
Neil Barrett teaches English at Indian Springs School in Birmingham, AL. He spends his free time writing and telling bedtime stories to his two boys. His only published work to date is an essay titled “Reading Monsters: How Mary Shelley Teaches Incels to Read Paradise Lost,” published by Bloomsbury in a collection called The Metaphor of the Monster. You can follow his sporadic tweeting habits on Twitter @whotwotewho.